Hate crime reports are up in King County this year, with 51 cases filed by the prosecuting attorney’s office in 2020. This is up from 38 in 2019 and 30 in 2018.
This increase puts the region as having one of the highest hate crime caseloads in the country, according to hate crime co-lead for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office David Bannick. But Bannick added that this is partly due to the Seattle Police Department prioritizing these investigations.
Most hate crime filings in the county occur in Seattle, Bannick said. These numbers do not include all hate crimes because not all get reported to authorities.
“There is likely dozens of hate crimes that go unreported or do not ever make it to us,” Bannick said in a call with reporters Monday.
Leandra Craft, also a hate crime co-lead for the prosecuting attorney’s office, told reporters Monday that she thinks the rise is due both to an increase in reporting and an increase in incidents. She also said that the coronavirus pandemic has led to different offenders of hate crimes, specifically more committed by people with mental health and substance abuse issues that aren’t getting assistance because of restrictions stemming from the virus.
This fact has complicated filing decisions for Bannick and Craft. For alleged hate crime offenders to get treatment instead of jail time, prosecutors often have to reduce the cases to misdemeanors from felonies.
“Leandra and I have to make that decision: How badly do we want to set a punishment for a person and how do we balance that with helping a person?” Bannick said. “If we have the choice between someone going to jail for three months or someone completing classes once a week for three months, I think we always want someone to take those classes to address what they need to get better and get help. The hard part is when someone’s conduct is so serious or so violent that it’s not appropriate to reduce the case to a misdemeanor. And that definitely happens.”
Mental Health Court is only available in King County for misdemeanors.
Data from past years show that Black people and gay men are most likely to be victims in reported hate crime cases in Seattle, according to Bannick. Those two groups make up over half of hate crime victims in recent cases here, he added.
For example, in Federal Way, two suspects allegedly beat a Black man to a “bloody pulp” and “left him on the side of the road in a puddle of his own blood” because of his race in late October, according to court filings by the county prosecutor’s office.
“There’s very, very low numbers for reported hate crimes for people who are transgender, people who are immigrants, people who are from other racial groups. I don’t think that’s because those people are not targeted for hate crimes and never face racial harassment,” Bannick said. “I think that’s because those types of hate crimes are less likely to be reported.”
For cases to be filed, they must be reported to the police, who then investigate the allegations. Then, the case can be referred to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which does its own independent review and makes a decision on felony filings.
Craft said that, anecdotally, hate crime referrals have risen in South King County. And the coronavirus has proven to be a new factor in cases this year as Asian-Americans have been targeted for hate crimes because of COVID-19 fears. This had led the prosecuting attorney’s office to do more outreach to the local Asian-American community, Craft added.
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